The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promote equality. They also promote economic growth together with the preservation of the Earth’s ecosystem. The goals are admirable. Are they achievable? Let’s consider.
People who are rich consciously act to maintain their status. Certainly they’d be OK with everyone else being rich as long as they remained rich. This all inclusiveness wouldn’t be likely for two reasons. One, many people don’t care to be materially wealthy. Two, the Earth’s ecosystem can’t support an infinite number of wealthy people. Thus, we expect to always have a wealth disparity between people.
People who are poor don’t want to be poor. They may not realize that they are poor, as with some indigenous people who maintain a hunter/gatherer lifestyle. But, there’s a global expectation on child survivability, education and security. These expectations promote fairness. Achieving this requires the continual application of significant resources, such as energy. However, the Earth’s ecosystem can’t support the advancement of an infinite number of poor people.
Last, our current economic system could enable all the poor to be rich. The system enables us to transfer resources to any location on Earth and perhaps even off of Earth. But the Earth has finite resources. Also, our utilization of resources, such as fossil fuels, comes with detrimental pollution. Hence, while the system is capable, the result is unattainable.
Yet, the SDGs are our only blueprint for the future. And it is a good blueprint. So, what’s the best future? Do we control the number of rich? How many poor can the Earth accommodate? How do we preserve the Earth’s ecosystem while continually drawing down its capital? Perhaps most of all, what degree of achievement is optimal for each goal?